Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Refurbished School Opens in Salman Pak

Local leaders cut the ribbon signifying the opening of the Salman Pak Girls Secondary School, April 24, in Salman Pak, Iraq.

FOB Hammer, Iraq

By Maj. Joe Sowers

Local leaders cut the ribbon signifying the opening of the Salman Pak Girls Secondary School, April 24, in Salman Pak, Iraq.

The only secondary school for girls in the Salman Pak area opened its doors with a ribbon-cutting ceremony April 24.

Leaders of the Salman Pak Council, the Iraqi Army, the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment and 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, gathered in Salman Pak for the ceremony, which marked the completion of a $200,000 project initiated Feb. 28.

Members of the Salman Pak Council brought the decrepit school to the attention of 1-15th Inf. Regt. leadership in January. The school was in disrepair and local leaders’ desire to improve educational facilities matched the goals of the battalion leadership.

“We were looking for a big school to refurbish to make an impact,” said Capt. Matt Givens, from Columbus, Ga., the civil-military operations officer for 1-15th Inf. Regt. “It was the only female secondary school in the area. Before the refurbishment, the school was pretty much falling down. It had no electricity and students couldn’t use the restrooms.”

Givens said the project completely overhauled the building. Iraqi contractors repaired structural damage, erected a security wall, rewired electrical outlets, replastered the outside and repainted the inside.

Two of the most significant improvements were connecting the restrooms to a septic tank and the construction of a concrete courtyard.

“Unpaved courtyards get quite muddy when it rains,” said Givens, who has facilitated 13 different school refurbishment projects during his unit’s 14-month deployment. “School administrators commonly ask for concrete courtyards for assemblies and recreation.”

Givens said these projects make a difference in the community.

“People view it as you’re helping take care of their children and it helps to build trust within the community,” he said. “They are excited when they see you helping their children.”

The 1-15th Inf. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga. and has been deployed to Iraq since March 2007. The 2-6th Inf. Regt. is assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division from Baumholder, Germany, and will soon replace the 3rd HBCT in the Mada’in Qada.

1-35 Armor Regt. Leaders Meet Jisr Diyala Nahia Council Members

Lt. Col. Ricardo Morales, from El Paso, Texas, commander of the 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment, introduces himself and key members of his staff to leaders of the Jisr Diyala Nahia Council, April 28. (photo by/3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment)

By Pfc. Evan Loyd
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armor Divison

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – The commander of 1st Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment, introduced himself and key members of his staff to leaders of the Jisr Diyala Nahia Council, April 28.

Lt. Col. Ricardo Morales, from El Paso, Texas, stressed the need to maintain positive momentum and continue working closely with the council as the 1-35th Armor Regt. takes responsibility for operations in Jisr Diyala.

The meeting took place as part of a planned transition between 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment to 1-35th Armor Regt.

The 1-35th Armor Regt. is assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armor Division, which will take responsibility of the Mada’in Qada from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

The Jisr Diyala Nahia Council – comprised of local and Iraqi security force leaders and local business managers – has enjoyed a good working relationship with 3-1st Cav. Regt. for the past 14 months, said 1st Lt. Kellan Blithe, from Paso Robles, Calif., fire support officer for 1-35th Armor Regt.

“Members of the Jisr Diyala Nahia Council expressed a desire to see city ordinances enforced, as opposed to early times when they were unwilling to or perhaps frightened to enforce them,” Blithe said. “It’s exciting to see council leaders take the initiative to better the community.”

The 3-1st Cav. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

EPRT Facilitates Mada’in Ag Expo

Maj. Nathan Haas, from The Dalles, Ore., information operations officer for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, greets a local tribal leader at the Mada'in Agriculture and Technology Expo in al-Wahida, Iraq, April 26. The 3rd BCT, provincial reconstruction team worked with local leaders to put on the expo in an effort to revitalize farming in the community. (U.S. Army photos/Pfc. David J. Marshall)

By Maj. Joe Sowers
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – More than 1500 Iraqi farmers attended the Mada’in Agricultural Technology Exposition in al-Wahida, Iraq, April 26 - 27.

The expo resulted from efforts by the embedded provincial reconstruction
team, attached to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, to revitalize farming and agri-business.

The 3rd HBCT EPRT leaders emphasized agricultural initiatives in the qada to provide long-term economic stability in the primarily agrarian district east of Baghdad.

Fifty-eight percent of the Mada’in citizens are farmers, and another 15 percent are in farm-related businesses, said Col. Bud Jameson, from Sherwood, Ark., PRT deputy team leader.

During the expo, Baghdad PRT members, Iraqi agriculture center representatives and successful farmers demonstrated technology beneficial to farming.

Since the Mada’in Qada is an arid region, leaders also promoted different techniques to improve field irrigations.

“There has been a lot of wasted water because they have been ‘flood’ irrigating their fields like they did in the old days,” Jameson said. “This doesn’t work because some of the land is not even and the water runs down into the low ground. Seed in the high ground does not get irrigated.”

During the expo, farmers filled out ePRT questionnaires to facilitate farmers associations in their communities.

“It used to be farmers associated by village,” Jameson said. “But the problem with that is one guy might be into fish farming and another into wheat. While they both need water, their priorities are totally different.”

Jameson said many farming communities lack diversification.

“If a wheat farmer is having a bad year or wheat prices are down, they have to have another way to support their family,” he said.

Jameson said the expo was aimed at revitalizing agriculture in the qada, reinstituting faith in the government and returning a sense of normalcy to the local population, but he hopes it will provide even more over time.

“There is also a reconciliation aspect to the expo,” he said. “People have talked to their local leaders and said they didn’t feel safe going out in public and doing things as a family. Now that security has improved, we are hoping they see this as something they can do as a family. We want them to see that peace has arrived.”

The 3rd HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division, is from Fort Benning, Ga., and deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2007. The brigade is one of the most deployed brigades in the Army.

24 April Marne Focus

Thursday, 24 April 2008
Mahmudiyah school renovations under way; MND-C focuses on transition; Largest citizenship ceremony in Iraq naturalizes troops; Therapist connects with alma mater, informs students...

Remaining soldiers to return


Even though his prime concern is ensuring a seamless transfer of authority at FOB Hammer in Iraq, Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr. is also keeping close tabs on those 3rd Brigade soldiers who have already redeployed to Fort Benning.

"So far, so good," Grigsby said Tuesday evening from his office at Hammer, noting that all returning soldiers have begun their mandatory reintegration training.

"And," he said, "we just sent 300 more Sledgehammer soldiers to Kuwait. I believe our transportation problems are over and that the next two flights coming home are on schedule."

More members of the advance, or torch, party are expected to arrive at Lawson Army Airfield at 7:45 p.m. on Friday. The next group is due to land on May 7.

Much of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, a unit headquartered in Germany, have already arrived at Hammer.

Grigsby has been escorting his successor, Col. Pete White, around the provincial Mada'in Qada area, introducing him and his staff to key leaders in the Iraqi Army and police.

"I know there's some anxiety surrounding the fact that we're leaving," Grigsby said. "After all, we were the first unit to come into this qada and since then violence is down and there's a vast improvement in the economy. But I reassure them that of the five 'surge' brigades, we're the only one being replaced. There's really no reason for them to worry."

In a recent meeting with Army, police and civic leaders, Grigsby addressed some of their concerns.

He discussed the transition between the 3rd Brigade and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team from Smith Barracks, Germany.

"I am confident that all of the great leaders in this room will give the incoming unit the same support we received during our stay here."

Grigsby emphasized that, during his brigade's time in the area, he always encouraged his Iraqi partners to determine what was best for the qada.

"The Coalition force solution is not the solution," he said to his fellow leaders. "Your solutions are what are important. I have always tried to support your decisions to help make this area better. So far, we have been very successful because of your guidance and insight."

Once all of his battalions return to Kelly Hill by the end of May, he'll have all of his soldiers in the same location for the first time in 15 months. Almost 65 percent of the 3,800 soldier force was stationed at combat outposts away from FOB Hammer.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Brigade Honors Fallen Soldier



Staff Sgt. Jeffery Hartley had traveled from his combat outpost to Forward Operating Base Rustimiyah to mourn a fellow soldier, killed days earlier by a roadside bomb.

Such is not uncommon for the soldiers of the close-knit 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

Many of those who attended the memorial service for Sgt. Darren Dhanoolal did not know him personally.

But he was a member of the Sledgehammer Brigade.

Enough said.

Hartley, a staff sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, was leading his platoon back to Combat Outpost Salie following the memorial service when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb.

Hartley, one of three soldiers in his vehicle, was killed.

News of Hartley's April 8 death was made public a couple of days later. But the details surrounding the trip to the memorial service were not released until much later.

Hartley, of Eagle Lake, Texas, was no stranger to Fort Benning. He had served three deployments with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment before joining the 1-10 and deploying twice more in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with the "Rock Support" battalion.

"He simply was one of the finest leaders I have ever known," said Capt. Drew Staples, commander of Headquarters Battery. "He combined a sense of mission with a human touch that will be hard-pressed to ever be duplicated."

At Hartley's memorial service at FOB Hammer, Staples spoke of a few fond memories he had of the fallen noncommissioned officer.

"It's hard to limit this to only a few memories, as I have many great ones of Staff Sergeant Hartley," he told the crowd. "Everything about this young man was special and I feel very lucky to have been able to share this time on Earth with him."

Two of Hartley's closest friends introduced him to those who may not have known him well, and they remembered him with those who did.

"Some saw him as a goofball, which he was at times," said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wing. "But when it was time for business, you knew you could count on him to accomplish any task. He was a no-nonsense professional, focused and mission- oriented."

Sgt. Brian Loza also eulogized Hartley. "As a friend, he was definitely one person I knew I could rely and depend on. If there was ever a time or place that either one of us had to be there for one another, there was never any doubt in either of our minds that we would be there for each other."

At the service, 1-10 commander Lt. Col. Mark Sullivan had final words for the NCO he considered a "confidant."

"You can stand down, son," he said. "Your mission is complete. Rest in peace."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Boost From the Brigade

Photo by Robin Trimarchi / Ledger-EnquirerNikki Boyter kisses her fiance, Capt. Steven Austin of Midlothian, Va., upon his return to Fort Benning from Iraq with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s advance party Saturday.

Boost from the Brigade

Valerie Smith vividly remembers when the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team -- a full force of 3,800 soldiers -- shipped out more than a year ago for the war in Iraq.

Kelly Hill, where the unit is housed at Fort Benning, became a virtual ghost town save for a few contractors and a handful of troops remaining behind.

"It has truly impacted our business up here. It has been tough," said Smith, manager of the Kelly Hill Burger King, which cut its hours and staffing dramatically after the March 2007 deployment. "We do miss the soldiers because of their friendly faces and everything when they're coming in. It's just wonderful when they're here."

Well, the cavalry -- and the armor, infantry and artillery -- are on the way. The first wave of 3rd Brigade soldiers arrived over the weekend and the rest are scheduled to be back home by the end of May.

Families and friends they left behind are anxiously awaiting their return. But so are local businesses that rely heavily on the uniformed warriors to keep their financial boats afloat.

Retail outlets, car dealers, restaurants, nightclubs and apartment complexes -- all felt the pain when the 3rd Brigade left for Iraq. They now are looking for a much-needed shot in the arm as the troops -- some who likely have saved thousands of dollars while fighting overseas -- go on an anticipated spending spree in the first few weeks after they return.

The economic ripple should be felt on and off post.

"We expect at least another 5 to 10 percent increase in sales," said Steve Martin, manager of the Main Post Exchange on Fort Benning. "We're definitely bumping up our orders."

The 247,000-square-foot post exchange, which has a variety of food outlets and other vendors, held its grand opening in November. So the 3rd Brigade soldiers, unless they came home briefly during the holidays, haven't seen the facility, which is more than twice the size of the old one.

Martin said he expects electronics to be a hot item for the arriving soldiers, as well as civilian clothing, jewelry and outdoor gear to outfit their homes or apartments.

"If they have families, they're probably going to be buying new grills and patio furniture and stuff like that with the extra money they've got," he said.

Saving for a 'splurge'

The money that some of the 3rd Brigade soldiers have accrued while in the Middle East can definitely add up.

Base pay is exempt from federal income taxes, while the government also offers those serving in a combat zone extra pay ranging from $225 to $450 per month, depending on how hostile of an area they are in.

Those with families also receive a family separation allowance of $250 per month. It kicks in anytime soldiers are ordered away from their loved ones for 30 days or more.

Other benefits include an extra $1,000 per month for any time served beyond a year in a combat zone. And those in combat can deposit up to $10,000 annually in a special savings account with a guaranteed interest rate of 10 percent per year

"A lot of our soldiers do save up that extra money they get from being over there in Iraq," said Evelyn Livermore, a 3rd Brigade readiness support assistant. "A lot of our soldiers are very frugal and they save that money because they want to do something special with their family -- if they are married -- like go on a cruise."

Livermore knows of at least two soldiers who are planning rest and relaxation on the high seas, such as in the Caribbean. She also expects a fair number of them to go car shopping after having driven only Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles for the past year.

"They go out and look for a car because they have a nice, good solid down payment to put on it, which helps lower the interest rate as well as the payment," she said. "That's what we know, and we are expecting."

Of the returning soldiers, about 1,400 are single and 2,400 married. All will initially face a 10-day "reintegration period" in which they clean up and secure equipment and weapons brought back with them.

After that, the block leaves begin, with some soldiers expected to take up to 30 days off to unwind and decompress. Some may travel back to their respective homes across the country. Others may stay right here.

Either way, they'll be pulling out the greenbacks and credit cards. It will be therapeutic, said Livermore, who calls it a bit of a "feel-good" syndrome.

"They'll splurge money on themselves because they had to live in such -- I don't want to call it primitive conditions -- but if you and I look at it, it's not our typical conditions that we live in," she said. "They had to give up a lot being over there. So for them to come back into the regular world we know, they're going to go ahead and splurge on themselves, which is to be expected."

Cars, food likelyon troops' wish lists

That's what Rob Doll, owner of the Nissan dealership in Columbus, is anticipating. He should know, having served a lengthy period of time in combat during the Vietnam War.

"When I came home, I had been without for two years and I had money saved up and I wanted a new car, I wanted a new stereo, and where I didn't have a lot of resources to get them before, I had them now," he said.

Doll said his auto business suffered immediately once the 3rd Brigade troops left, although the overall economy has put a hurt on sales as well. He didn't track his military customer numbers, but he knows there will be what he calls a "boomerang" or "yo-yo" effect with the troops, having left 14 months ago, now returning with their hard-earned money.

"When they come back, we'll get that boomerang or that rubber-band effect in two months, and probably 80 percent of it in the first month they're back," Doll said. "It's just great to have 'em back, but the economic impact certainly cannot be overlooked. It's going to be very good."

Reuben Gentry, manager of Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar on Gentian Boulevard, agrees. There was a noticeable decline in sales when the 3rd Brigade left last year, and it has been exacerbated by the general public cutting back on spending as gas prices have risen.

"You can check any restaurant's sales trends," he said. "Everything dropped as soon as they left. All of the economy dropped, especially here in Columbus -- housing, restaurants, everything."

An infusion of 3,800 people into the market, many with families, will be just what the financial doctor ordered, said Gentry, who plans to staff up as the soldiers return and fan out through Columbus to spend.

"They've been over there and haven't had any time back home," he said. "So their bank accounts are pretty fat, at least the single soldiers are anyway. The married soldiers, I'm sure they have their spouses back home making sure they spend their money properly."

The boost looks to extend to local nightlife. Clubs and bars no doubt want a piece of the action when the soldiers return. That's why some, including The Catwalk, an adult club fronting Veterans Parkway in north Columbus, have already put welcome messages to the troops on their marquees.

"Everybody notices when they leave. Everybody notices when they come back," said Larry Hamilton, manager of the club. He estimates that 40 percent of his clientele is military, with each soldier spending $20 to $25 per visit. "They don't come in and blow a whole bunch of money," he said.

Housing market to benefit. There will be absolute necessities to spend on, however. And housing is a biggie.

Brighton Park Apartments on Warm Springs Road already has had six soldiers decide to stay at the 224-unit complex, said assistant manager Renee Scurry. Apartments range from $685 for one bedroom to $950 for three bedrooms.

"We've had quite a few who have called from Iraq and we've had several that either their spouse or their parent has a power of attorney and they have contacted us," Scurry said. "We have several others that are in the works."

Greystone Properties also has fielded numerous calls from military people needing a place to stay, said Evelyn Barfield, the apartment company's chief operating officer.

Requests have come in the form of phone calls, e-mails and Web site queries. Greystone has nearly 2,200 apartment units in Columbus, ranging from about $650 to $1,600 per month.

"We have had a lot of requests for returns," Barfield said. "The military who were in our properties prior to leaving are calling requesting to return."

Will White, a partner in Greystone Properties LLC, said the apartment market did soften up when the 3rd Brigade departed last year. He believes the market bottomed out last fall, making it one of the softest in seven or eight years.

But the sector -- which has about 14,000 apartment units locally -- appears to be turning the corner and moving back toward a 94-percent occupancy rate, White said. The 3rd Brigade's return may push that even higher.

"A healthy apartment market is considered to be from 94 percent and above," he said. "When you get into 97 percent and above -- which we had going back maybe three or four years ago -- that is considered to be abnormal. And we've seen a lot of construction partly as a result of that."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Leaders of One of the Army’s Most Deployed Brigades Look Back on Deployment

Capt. Josh Beard, from Opelika, Ala., the civil-military operations officer for 1-10th FA, greets a worker who helped set up a well and filtration system at a girls school in Narhwan. The 3rd BCT established relationships with citizens of the Mada'in Qada through community projects and humanitarian aid projects like the girls school.
Staff Sgt. John Zamarripa, from Columbus, Ga., 3rd platoon, Company A, 1-15th Inf. Regt., jokes with citizens in Salman Pak during a market assessment mission. The 3rd BCT worked with local business owners to improve the economy of the Mada'in Qada.

Lt. Col. Mark Sullivan, from Huntsville, Ala., commander of 1-10th FA, talks about security with Abu Sa'ad, chairman of the Sabah Nissan council, before a providing water to Banzen Khana, a village southeast of Baghdad. Battalions in the 3rd BCT worked closely with qada and nahia leaders to help improve the communities in the Mada'in Qada.
By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – After months of intensive training at Fort Benning, Ga., and a rotation to the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calf., the 3rd Brigade Combat Team deployed to Forward Operating Base Hammer in March 2007, prepared to accomplish their mission.

Their mission in Iraq has been to prevent accelerants from coming into Baghdad, said Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., from Prince George’s County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT.

“I’d say we were very successful doing that, in addition we came to the Mada’in Qada and helped stop the criminals that were harming the good people here,” he said.

The 3rd BCT, also known as the Hammer Brigade, captured 43 division level and brigade level HVIs (High-Value Individuals) and killed over 160 enemy fighters.

“We have been very effective along all lines of operations,” Grigsby said.

Command Sgt. Major James Pearson, from Philadelphia, the 3rd BCT’s senior non-commissioned officer, is also pleased with the way his troops conducted operations.

“We have been phenomenal for over a year,” he said. “I can look at what is happening in Baghdad and see an improvement. Since our arrival, attack levels have dropped to a very low point. I believe that is proof that we have been accomplishing our mission.”

The 3rd BCT inherited a battle space that had very little coalition force presence prior to 2004. Citizens of the Mada’in Qada were routinely intimidated by extremist groups and the local economy was a shell of its former self. Shops and markets were boarded up and vacant. The local government had been forced underground and the judges who provided rule of law had fled to Baghdad. Seeing the situation, Grigsby and Pearson were optimistic, but cautious in their expectations.

“The deployment went like I expected it to,” Pearson said. “I viewed us as an extension of [Operation Iraqi Freedom] I... We had to fight in the beginning and establish ourselves in the area. We were very much in an expeditionary fight in the beginning. After we established order, we were able to build up all of the other areas.”

Pearson credits the Brigade’s training as a key reason that his Soldiers were so successful.

“I have always emphasized the basics when it comes to training,” he said. “Our NCOs worked hard on teaching our Soldiers core warrior tasks that they would need … Our Soldiers knew how to fight and survive before they came out here. Once we had our fighting skills down, everything else fell into place. We were prepared to fight. All we needed to do was adjust our TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) based on what we were experiencing.”

Grigsby said even though the initial fighting was difficult and progress was slow, the brigade’s persistence and discipline remained constant.

“I cannot explain how proud I am of our Soldiers,” he said. “No matter what happened, they showed up every day ready to accomplish the mission. I didn’t hear any complaints or whining a single time this deployment. Much of that goes to our leaders who provided direction and kept our Soldiers focused on what they were doing, but you have to give most of the credit to our Soldiers and their commitment to serving their country.”

Grigsby has seen tangible results as a result of his troops’ performance.

“Security has increased ten-fold from when we first started going outside the wire here at Hammer,” he said. “We were getting attacked an average of three or four times a day when we first arrived. Now we average less than one attack per day.”

After capturing the HVIs, the 3rd BCT eliminated those who menaced good citizens. In finding and eliminating weapon caches and improvised explosive devices, they eliminated another major threat. They detained 600 suspected criminals and helped rebuild the government in the area.

“The mayor and the qada council have returned and are helping the people of the Mada’in Qada. Each nahia has a local council helping get the voices of their people heard,” Grigsby said. “All of these things weren’t here when we arrived. I think it’s a testament to the hard work of our Soldiers, the local leaders, our Iraqi Security Force partners and the people in this area.”

Pearson credits much of the 3rd BCT’s success to veterans of the brigade. He estimated over 60 percent of the brigade's Soldiers were serving in their second or third deployment.

“More than anything, our veterans helped instill a sense of confidence in our first timers,” he said. “As operations started, our younger guys had someone who had seen combat and could ready them for what was about to happen. They were able to show our Soldiers what right looked like and prepare them.”

Grigsby also feels that his veterans’ professionalism was as important as their experience.

“Our veterans were smart and professional enough not to fight the same fight twice,” he said. “They realized that this was a different war from OIF I and III. They were open-minded and adapted what they knew to help in the current fight.”

Pearson believes that his first-time deployers were also instrumental to the brigade’s success.

“When our first-timers rolled out of the gate, they brought a heightened sense of awareness to our patrols,” he said. “To watch them conquer their initial fears and go out and contribute was a lift for all of our leaders. They allowed us to see the battlefield with new eyes, which is always good.”

As the 3rd BCT’s deployment continued, the Brigade worked to help establish Sons of Iraq groups throughout the qada to further security gains made in the area. The SoI groups manned checkpoints and provided the 3rd BCT and ISF vital information on what happened inside neighborhoods.

“The establishment of the Sons of Iraq put more pressure on extremists operating in the area,” said Grigsby.

Their establishment provided jobs to citizens who might have otherwise emplaced IEDs for money. They provided hiring by the Iraqi national police and Iraqi police.

“It gave the men of this qada the opportunity to help better the places they lived and worked by providing security,” Grigsby said. “As a result, local economies prospered ... I think it was one our greatest successes of this deployment.”

The initiation of the SoI, the gains in security, the re-establishment of governance and the strengthening of the local economy are some of the many victories that the 3rd BCT achieved in helping the Mada’in Qada during the deployment. They are all victories that have come with a cost, according to Grigsby.

“We lost 32 great Soldiers to accomplish the great things we have done,” he said. “We had 192 wounded to accomplish our mission. They will live with me forever and I will never forget what they have done for this brigade and our country.

“I feel it is important that none of them is forgotten by this brigade or the people back home. That, to me, is the most important thing. As their commander, I take full responsibility for all of their deaths. I look forward to meeting their parents and spouses and grieving with them,” Grigsby said. “These Soldiers were all heroes and I feel it is important that we never let the greatness of what they did for their country be forgotten.”

Pearson also credits two battalions who were separated from the 3rd BCT at the beginning of the deployment. The 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment and 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, were both assigned to different units away from the 3rd BCT area of operations. The 1-10 FA was eventually reunited with the 3rd BCT at FOB Hammer, but Pearson is proud of how they conducted operations in other areas of Iraq.

“It is always emotional when you lose units,” he said. “When you train as a team, you want to deploy and fight as a team. When we found out we were losing both 1-10 and 2-69 it was a blow, because we knew what both of them brought to the fight. I knew that both of them would do well apart from us, though. I have heard nothing, but good things about their performances while detached from the brigade.”

As the 3rd BCT’s deployment draws to an end, both leaders want their troops to return home proud of what they have done.

“Since 2001, Soldiers have volunteered to be a part of the global war on terror and to leave their homes and families to serve their country,” Pearson said. “I want all of them to be proud of their accomplishments. I want them to be proud of their service. History calls the World War II Soldiers the greatest generation. I believe that when we look back 20 years from now, these Soldiers will be looked at as one of the greatest generations as well. What we are doing with an all volunteer Army is amazing. Every one of our Soldiers stood up, raised their right hand and answered the call of their country during a time when they were needed. I think it says something about them and the type of people that make up our service.”

Grigsby agrees.

“I wake up everyday just honored to be able to serve with the great Soldiers of the Sledgehammer Brigade,” he said. “This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. The Soldiers of this brigade have helped create a world that will allow my recently born grandson to grow up safely and enjoy all of the freedoms that we have enjoyed. I mean it when I say they have fought to preserve our country and our way of life. When my grandson asks me about this war, I will tell him I served in a brigade of heroes, because that is what everyone in this brigade is.”

The 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

Assassin Troop Receives Certificate of Appreciation

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT, 1st Sgt. Meko Johnson, from Detroit, Troop A, 3-1st Cav. Regt., Capt. Troy Thomas, from Leitchfield, Minn., troop commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. James M. Pearson, from Philadelphia, 3rd BCT, pose for a picture with the certificate of appreciation presented to the troop on April 24 at PB Assassin, Iraq.

Salman Pak’s Ministry of Irrigation On Schedule

Salman Pak ministry of irrigation workers repair water lines to bring clean drinking water to the city on April 15. The GoI has a renewed interest in service projects in the region due to security improvements made possible by Iraqi security forces.

By Sgt. 1st Class Scott Maynard, 3rd HBCT, 3rd Inf. Div. PAO

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Salman Pak’s Ministry of Irrigation is on schedule with piping projects to restore drinking water for residents of Salman Pak and Dura’iya.

The projects, funded by the Government of Iraq, are focused on replacing water lines damaged over recent years.

The GoI is increasing efforts to rebuild and restore basic services in the region, said Capt. Matthew Givens, projects planner for the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment.

“Every project completed in Salman Pak and the surrounding regions are made possible by increased security,” he said.

Givens, a native of Columbus, Ga., said projects like this one will eventually provide clean drinking water for the entire region.

“It is only one example of renewed interest by the Government of Iraq in services provided for the local people, here,” he said.

Salman Pak is home to the ancient Arch of Ctesiphon, the largest man-made free standing arch in the world, which was built in 400 A.D.

The 1-15th Inf. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007

My Band of Mothers

Yesterday was a glorious day for my friend, Lidia Martinez and her family...Anthony arrived home after a second deployment from Iraq. I met Lidia the day (or maybe I should say days, since there were several unsuccessful attempts to leave) the Advon team deployed for Iraq. Chris, Nick and Anthony all left together. I didn't know anyone else standing at the fence watching the guys walk away. A kind lady offered me an American flag to wave as the boys were walking away. After the busses pulled away, we introduced ourselves to each other and discovered we had a lot in common...both of us just had part of our hearts get on a bus and head to Iraq, we were both from Texas, we both believed that God was going to bring them back safely, and we both were sad and knew that we had fifteen months of tough days.

We have all heard of the bond that our Soldiers make with one another when they serve...Band of Brothers. Well, I can honestly say that the same thing happens with Moms. During the fifteen month deployment, I have survived in part because of my "Band of Mothers". We have been there for one another through the good times and the bad. We have shared our lives...our worries, fears, disappointments, excitements, proudness...our good days and our bad days.

Just as the Soldiers will have a lifetime bond, so do the Moms. Bernadette and Lidia are two special Moms that are a big part of my Band of Mothers and will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you ladies for our special bond!

Even though Chris was not on the flight yesterday, my day started out with butterflies in my stomach. I was so excited that Lidia's journey was coming to an end. I even had the alarm set on my phone so I could be a part of the moment he was to land. Even though we were thousands of miles apart, I felt like I was a part of the heart was with them.

Chris and Nick still have a little more time to go, but for many, the journey has ended. Welcome home, Anthony and all others. Thank you doesn't even begin to say home much you are appreciated!

48 Hours Free Time

Spc. Aaron Cardinal of Randolph County, W. Va., hugs his wife Deanna and his 15-month old daughter Joslyn as he comes home to Fort Benning from Iraq with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team advance party Saturday. 277 soldiers returned to post to end their 14-month deployment, and set the stage for the remainder of the brigade's return throughout May. ROBIN TRIMARCHI 04/26/08

48 hours free time


Fifteen months gets a soldier 48 hours.

It's not an even trade, of course, for the 13-15 months that returning soldiers spend in the burning sun and the sand of Iraq's war zone. But it beats the alternative.

In the next two weeks, about 3,800 U.S. Army soldiers return to Fort Benning after deployments overseas. They'll get two days of free time before having to report back to work.

Even those fast-dwindling 48 hours are filled with restrictions. Soldiers must stay within a 120-mile radius of the post. And they must not drive for the first 24 hours of leave. Then they return to post for 10 days of classes, debriefing and paperwork.

So how are they going to spend those first 48 hours?

"The single soldiers want to get out there and have a good time. They definitely want to get downtown and hit a club, probably have a drink or two, have a good meal," said Capt. Stephen Miller, who is planning the reintegration of the returning soldiers.

Columbus' nightclubs, restaurants, movie theaters and shopping malls will all see a surge of people, if past troop arrivals are used as a model.

Chow time

Cusseta, Ga.’s Four Winds Restaurant, the close-to-post stop for a legendary, one-pound Ranger Burger, is gearing up for the fellows in camo.

When the troops were away, the restaurant found its weekly order of ground beef drop from 1,000 pounds to 500. They’ve ordered 600 pounds for next week and likely will up it again in the following week.

“It’s good to see ’em back,” said owner Susan Cox, who’d just booked for a party of 55. Some are returning customers, and some have heard of the restaurant while serving in Iraq.

“We have a lot of people coming in trying that Ranger Burger, to see what it’s all about,” she said.

It’s not uncommon to have someone pick up a check for a group of soldiers or a reunited family, Cox said. Last week, a hunter saw a mother and children eating a meal — their husband and father still overseas.

“He said, ‘I want to take care of that family,’ ” Cox said. “It makes me feel good, because my husband’s retired military. I remember, after Vietnam, when sometimes we just weren’t welcome places.”

Apartment complexes are already feeling the impact of returning soldiers.

“Soldiers in Iraq were taking our apartments two months ago,” said Sylvia Haynes, assistant manager of Whisperwood Apartments. About half of Whisperwood’s 1,008 units are rented to servicemen and servicewomen, she said.

Many soldiers, of course, will just be happy for a chance to rest. And more than 60 percent of the 3,800 returning are married and likely will be laying low during the short leave.

“I can speak from personal experience with my two deployments,” Miller said. “I just wanted to get home and spend time with my family.”

But that means nearly 40 percent of the 3rd Brigade’s returnees are single. They are the ones who are ready to hit the town, except they’re not allowed to drive for the first full day. Taxi!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

04/21/08 - 04/25/08 Dog Face Daily's

Friday, 25 April 2008
IA lieutenant gets prosthetic limb from Coalition forces; Soldiers hand out clothes, shoes to Iraqi children...

Thursday, 24 April 2008
Iraqi students enhance skills at English Day; Coalition forces help Iraqi child with medical care; Soldiers work to repair Arab Jabour schools...

Wednesday, 23 April 2008
Fish farms make a comeback in Babil; Texas native keeps Delta’s shelves stocked...

Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Iraqis displaced from homes now returning in droves; Mahmudiyah Soccer Stadium opens with tourney; TCPs disrupt enemy movement in Wasit...

Monday, 21 April 2008
Rakkasans run for breast cancer cure; Cuscatlan Battalion delivers wheelchairs, gives hope; Microgrants keep Arab Jabour clinic open...

Friday, April 25, 2008

3rd BCT Leaders Awarded Bronze Star Medals

It seems like every awards ceremony made the news, except Chris and Nick's...that's okay...I'm sure we'll hear all about it when they get home!
Col. Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division awards Lt. Col. Matthew Bendele, from San Antonio, 3rd BCT's Military Transition Team chief, the Bronze Star Medal on April 23 at Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq.

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT, poses for a picture with Sgt. 1st Class Jay Carey, from Nanticoke, Pa., senior non-commissioned officer of the 3rd BCT's MiTT, after awarding him the Bronze Star Medal on April 23 at FOB Hammer, Iraq

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT, talks to Capt. Timothy Friedrich, from Cullman, Ala., logistics officer for the 3rd BCT's MiTT, after awarding him the Bronze Star Medal on April 23 at Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq.

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT, awards Capt. Leo Buehler, from Pottsville, Pa., operations officer for the 3rd BCT MiTT, the Bronze Star Medal on April 23 at FOB Hammer, Iraq.

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd HBCT, awards Capt. Jimmy Hathaway, from Columbus, Ga., commander of Task Force Petro, the 13th Georgian Army Battalion Liaison Team, the Bronze Star Medal on April 23 at FOB Hammer, Iraq.

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT, awards Master Sgt. Peter Black, from Smith Station, Ala., senior NCO of Task Force Petro, the 13th GB Liaison Team, the Bronze Star Medal on April 23 at FOB Hammer, Iraq.

Soldiers Receive Awards at COP Cashe

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, awards Capt. Troy Thomas, from Litchfield, Minn., commander of Troop A, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, a Bronze Star Medal for his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom, at Combat Outpost Cashe, Iraq, on April 19.

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT, awards Capt. Brian Gilbert, from Boise, Idaho, commander of Company D, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, currently attached to the 3-1st Cav. Regt., a Bronze Star Medal for his service during OIF, at COP Cashe, Iraq, on April 19.
Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT, awards Maj. David Guthrie, from Hampton. Va., operations officer for the 3-1st Cav. Regt., a Bronze Star Medal for his service during OIF, at COP Cashe, Iraq, on April 19.

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT, awards Capt. David Smith, from Grand Rapids, Mich., commander of Headquarters' Troop, 3-1st Cav. Regt., a Bronze Star Medal for his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom, at COP Cashe, Iraq, on April 19.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

First Group of Benning Soldiers Returns

Pfc. Stevie Hargenrater smiles at her father Steve Hargenrater in between hugs as she arrives home with the 598 Maintenance Company from a 15-month deployment to Iraq. Stevie, 19, wanted to ride the 970 miles home to Meadville, Pennsylvania on her Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle, so father Steve drove it to Fort Benning, and father and daughter will ride home together. ROBIN TRIMARCHI 04/23

First group of Benning soldiers returns

Almost 300 soldiers, including the entire 598th Maintenance Company, returned to Fort Benning late Wednesday night after completing 15-month combat tours in Iraq.

The much-delayed flight, which kept the soldiers in Kuwait for better than a week, touched down at Lawson Army Airfield shortly before midnight.

Hundreds of family members and friends waited inside Freedom Hall, the airport's spacious terminal, and watched on giant television screens as the soldiers exited their World Airlines charter.

"As soon as we saw them getting off that plane, it was no longer important that it took them so long to get back here," said Ed Rogers of Ellerslie, whose wife, Capt. Andrea Rogers, is the commander of the 598th.

More than 100 soldiers from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat team's advance party were also aboard the aircraft. The remainder of the advance group is expected to return to Fort Benning Saturday afternoon.

Lt. Col. Scott Quagliata, the brigade's rear detachment commander, said Wednesday that Saturday's flight is scheduled to land at Lawson at 2:40 p.m. "We also have flights scheduled for May 2 (7:45 p.m.) and May 7 (8:50 p.m.)."

The advance party includes soldiers from each of the brigade's six battalions.

Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Lockett, a platoon sergeant with the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, was among those who had family waiting for him.

"He's going to be surprised to see how big Miguel has grown," said Carmen Lockett, who was busy photographing the proceedings while sons Patrick, 5, and Miguel, 1, carried signs welcoming home dad.

With chartered aircraft at a premium, due primarily because one carrier recently declared bankruptcy and cut ties with the Army, the Benning soldiers were stranded in Kuwait for about 11 days.

Rachael Villavicencio of Phenix City was originally told that the soldiers would be coming home on Saturday.

"I rescheduled my son's surgery for today, thinking my husband would be back by now," she said. "Of course, he wasn't." But the surgery went fine, the removal of a possible cancerous spot from son Leonardo, 16-months old. The family also has another son, Alejandro.

The family, which had arrived at Freedom hall well before 11 p.m. was finally reunited with Sgt. Alejandro Villavicencio, a tank mechanic with the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment at 1:30 a.m. Thursday.

So why the two-hour wait between touch down and reunion with the families?

Soldiers must turn in their weapons and all sensitive material they may be carrying. In addition, there is a brief film to watch, a safety briefing and talks from unit commanders.

"Listen," said Steve Hargenrater, whose daughter Pfc. Stevie Hargenrater is a 598th soldier, "what's two hours after 15 months. I'm just excited to see her."

Hargenrater drove his Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle 970 miles this week from his home in Meadville, Pa. to welcome his daughter.

"The neat things is that when she goes on block leave, she's going to climb on the back of my Harley and we'll take off for home."

The Welcome Home ceremony was the first of what could be as many as 20 at the airport over the next few weeks.

Col. Wayne Grigsby Jr., the 3rd Brigade commander, said Wednesday that the entire brigade should be home by the end of May.

Hopefully, there will be no more delays.

"Playing cards all day gets pretty old," said one 598th soldier who asked not to be identified.

Leaders Meet at FOB Hammer to Discuss Security

Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr. (right), from Prince George's County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT, listens as leaders from 3/1 NP Brigade; 35/9 IA Div.; the Mada'in Qada police force; and tribal leaders, discuss security issues during a meeting at FOB Hammer, on April 23.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Leaders from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team met with the 3rd brigade, 1st national police division; the 35th brigade, 9th Iraqi army division; Iraqi police and civic leaders from the Mada’in Qada at FOB Hammer to discuss ways to improve the security of the qada.

In the month prior to the meeting, Soldiers from the 3rd BCT and Iraqi security forces seized several large caches and detained numerous criminals.

“We have worked very hard to maintain the security gains we made here,” said Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., from Prince George’s County, Md., commander of the 3rd BCT, addressing his ISF partners. “You are able to get better information than we ever could, and that has made a huge difference in tracking down these extremists.”

Grigsby discussed the transition between the 3rd BCT and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armor Division, from Smith Barracks, Germany. The 3rd BCT will transfer authority over to the 2nd BCT in May.

“We have worked very hard to ensure a smooth transition,” Grigsby said. “I am confident that all of the great leaders in this room will give the incoming unit the same support we received during our stay here in the Mada’in Qada.”

Grigsby emphasized that, during the 3rd BCT’s time in the area, he always encouraged his Iraqi partners to determine what was best for the qada.

“The coalition force solution is not the solution,” he said to his fellow leaders. “Your solutions are what are important. I have always tried to support your decisions to help make this area better. So far, we have been very successful because of your guidance and insight.”

The 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

Coalition Forces Aid Fish Farms, Hatcheries

Lt. Col. Todd Ratliff, from Holland, Ohio, commander of the 3rd BSTB, explains to Michael Torreano, from Iron Mountain, Mich., USAID representative to the 3rd BCT's ePRT, how quickly fish are growing in a pond at a fish hatchery in Gorzia, Iraq, on April 18.

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Members of the U.S. Agency for International Development are developing a plan to provide equipment and supplies to fish farms and hatcheries in the Mada’in Qada.

According to Michael Torreano, USAID representative to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s embedded provincial reconstruction team, USAID will hold a meeting with leaders of the 3rd BCT to discuss the community stability project. The project will provide items such as fish, feed and equipment to these businesses.

Torreano, from Iron Mountain, Mich., and Lt. Col. Todd Ratliff, from Holland, Ohio, commander of the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, visited a fish hatchery in the town of Gorzia to assess the owners’ needs.

The hatchery is fairly small with a number of growing ponds nearby. The building had two spawning tanks and equipment for handling the eggs and tiny spawn, he said. The primary type of fish in the hatchery is carp.

The owners of the hatchery said their biggest need is carp pituitary hormone.

Torreano explained the hormones increase fertility of the female resulting in the production of more eggs therefore increasing chances to spawn.

At the hatcheries, fish are bred then the eggs are taken out to hatch, Torreano said. When the eggs hatch they are taken to a pond to grow into fingerlings.

Fish farmers buy the fingerlings and, after they grow into adult carp, are sold at markets.

“In this area fish farming is not a thriving industry,” Torreano said. “Fish are in high demand and they also help the health of the locals as a good source of protein.”

Torreano said fish farming and hatcheries are also economically viable. The work can be done with existing technology, and related businesses like feed mills and delivery companies can profit from thriving farms.

The 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

IA Commander Visits FOB Hammer

Maj. Gen. Qassim, commander of the 9th Iraqi army division (Mech), is greeted by Col. Tony Abati, 9th Iraqi army division liaison officer on April 22 at Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq. Qassim visited to talk tactics and receive an invitation to the brigade's transfer of authority ceremony.

By Sgt. 1st Class Scott Maynard
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – An Iraqi army commander visited on April 22 to thank the commander of 3rd Brigade Combat Team for his support in bringing peace to the Mada’in Qada.

Maj. Gen. Qassim, commander of the 9th IA division (mech) expressed his gratitude to Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, a native of Prince George’s County, Md., for the Hammer Brigade’s hard work.

“I thank you and your brigade for all the support and efforts you brought with you to the Mada’in,” Qassim said.

Grigsby said neither group could have achieved security alone. “Our Soldiers did this together.”

Grigsby invited Qassim to attend the 3rd BCT’s transfer of authority ceremony, as the brigade is nearing the end of its tour.

“I would like to formally thank you and your division at the ceremony for all the hard work, our strong relationship and allowing us to support you here in the Mada’in,” Grigsby said.

Qassim accepted the invitation, expressing his desire to welcome the incoming commander and build a new relationship with him.

The 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007

Soldiers Find Friends Like Family in Platoon

Pfc. Christopher Clary, from Russell, N.Y., a gunner in the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion's security platoon, salutes Lt. Col. Todd Ratliff, from Holland, Ohio, battalion commander, before Clary receives an Army Commendation Medal, April 13, at the Solider, Airman and Civilian Center on Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq.

By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq - Twenty-five Soldiers and non-commissioned officers from the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion came together for the first time at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., two months before their deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Although they were from different parts of the country and different backgrounds, their mission was the same; to protect the battalion commander as he conducted security, governance and economic missions in Iraq.

Gunners Spc. Ray Serna, Pfc. Jesse Manchester and Pfc. Christopher Clary, said they knew of fellow platoon members, but merely acknowledged them in passing. They'd seen the other Soldiers in the barracks or working on Kelley Hill at Fort Benning, Ga., where the 3rd Brigade Combat Team calls home.

"Clary was actually my neighbor, but I didn't even remember him," said Serna, a Houston native. Clary and Manchester attended basic training together at Fort Benning.

They didn't meet Serna until the NTC rotation.

Now, after living and working with each other for the past 14 months, the three gunners said they are not just friends; they are family.

Manchester, a native of Hiram, Maine, said he has spent so much time with the Soldiers in his platoon he knows almost everything about them and the team is able to let their guard down around each other.

"It makes us closer," he said. "Being together all the time, we know the good and the bad. We notice people's flaws."

Clary agreed.

"We know when someone's upset and they don't even say anything," he said.

Communication plays an important role in the relationship between the members of the team. Sometimes talking is all they have to do when they are out on long missions, said Serna.

"Sitting for 12 hours you have to have something to pass the time," Clary said. "I talk about my family a lot."

"I'm a mamma's boy," he added laughing. "We talk about stuff we used to do when we were home or stuff we are going to do when we get back home."

On their off-time Serna said most of the Soldiers in the platoon go to the gym, and watch movies and television show series.

"We're on 'Prison Break' right now, but we've watched 'The Office,' 'Lost,' 'ER' ... We've watched so many," he said. "If someone gets a new movie we all sit around and watch it together."

"Sometimes we get sodas from the PX (post exchange) and just sit around and talk," Clary added.

The three Soldiers are all fond of their leaders as well. They consider their NCOs to be comrades. They said each of their leaders is different, but all look out for the welfare of the Soldiers in the platoon.

Serna said the leaders understand their Soldiers and what they are going through and that helps.

"They are all there for us," he said. "If anyone needs anything they are there to help."

Being in the commander's security platoon has also built the Soldiers relationships with Lt. Col. Todd Ratliff, from Holland, Ohio, 3rd BSTB's commander, Clary said.

"He's all about family and he makes sure we are informing our families,"

Clary said. "He really looks out for his Soldiers. If our families need anything he makes sure we have the contact information to give to them so they can get what they need."

Each Soldier believes being on the team has built their relationship to levels it would not have been had they been working in different companies or battalions.

Neither Clary, Manchester, nor Serna expect to have their family at Fort Benning when they get off the plane, but they all plan to stay together.

Manchester and Clary will drive to Clary's home in New York to see his family.

Admittedly ready to go home, Clary and Manchester said the deployment has positively changed them as individuals.

"I used to be more childish," Manchester said. "I grew up this deployment." Clary said he used to be very quiet. "Now, if I have something to say, I just say it."

Each gunner said they intend to maintain their friendship in the future and have made plans to see each other.

The 3rd BSTB, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

203rd BSB Takes on Eagle's Challenge

Team Wolfpack consisting of Spc. Louis Pinault, from Fitchburg, Mass.; Sgt. Paul Zadzura, from Sturges, Pa.; and Spc. Mark Shaheer, from Chicago, lead after the foot march portion of the Eagle Challenge, April 6, on Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq.

By Sgt. 1st Class Scott Maynard
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq - At 5:30 a.m. on, April 6, 3rd Brigade Combat Team Soldiers throughout the brigade's area of operations were working hard to do their part in the war on terror.

At Forward Operating Base Hammer, Soldiers from 203rd Brigade Support Battalion were busy building the team through a series of physical and mental tests known as the "Eagle Challenge."

The challenge tested physical endurance with a one-mile run with their rifles; a four- and a half-mile foot-march, which included stops to test their general soldiering knowledge and unit history; a 30-minute physical fitness and agility session; and four testing stations which evaluated Soldiers' ability to treat a casualty; disassemble and assemble a rifle, perform a functions check then load; and fill a radio to make a radio check.

"It's not all Soldiers' common task training in the challenge," said 1st Lt. Natassia Fay, from Youngstown, Ohio, the battalion logistician.

"There are rules that must be followed as well."

The rules stipulated that contestants could compete as individuals or teams, there was no use of rank during the challenge, no disputes with the cadre and a positive attitude must be maintained.

The entire 203rd BSB could not participate due to mission tempo, but 48 out of 250 available Soldiers prequalified and took on the team building event.

Lt. Col. Kelly J. Lawler, from Monticello, N.Y., commander of the 203rd BSB, addressed the 48 203rd Soldiers, known as "Crows", prior to the start.

"Thank you for participating in the Eagle Challenge,' Lawler said. "Right now you are a 'Crow' but by the end of the day some of you will be 'Eagles'. You are the reason for this battalion's success and for that I thank you ... I have my buckle. I want you to have yours."

The sign of an "Eagle" is a brass belt buckle with the head of an eagle wrapped in the words, "203rd Brigade Support Battalion, Eagle Challenge, Support and Defend, 3rd Infantry Division."

"You will be proud to wear your belt buckle after today's challenge," Lawler said. "Other Soldiers will ask where you earned it, and you can tell them FOB Hammer, Iraq."

The Crows were herded off to have their rucksacks inventoried and the challenge began.

"Hurry up crows, get those rucks emptied out," barked Capt. Fenicia L. Jackson, from Hartsville, S.C., the battalion operations officer.

"Crows! You are not moving fast enough, front-leaning rest position, move!"

After the Soldiers warmed up for the one-mile run with Jackson, she inventoried the gear, had them load it up in the truck and moved them to the starting line.

Lawler was there waiting for the group.

"Are you warmed up, Crows?" Lawler asked. "Maybe another warm-up exercise will get you ready! The side straddle hop, ready, exercise one, two, three!"

After the exhausted Soldiers finished the exercises, Lawler sent them running into the sun. Some left with smiles, some with frowns and many with a set jaw and determined look.

Once the run was complete the contestants put on their rucksacks and moved on to the foot march. Sgt. Michael Decker, from Columbus, Ga., was in the lead with Spc. Clinton Biddle, from Paris, Ky., close behind.

They were followed by team "Wolfpack," which consisted of Sgt. Paul Zadzura, from Sturges, Pa.; Spc. Mark Shaheer, from Chicago; and Spc. Louis Pinault, from Fitchburg, Maine.

After the march, the leader board remained the same. Decker stayed out in front, Biddle a close second and Staff Sgt. Willie Farris, of Pinebluff, Ark., in third place for the singles competition. Team Wolfpack led in the team category; the leader board remained the same for the rest of the events.

The march was followed by a mandatory rest period at the home station. However no one got any rest.

Behind the break area lurked a giant water truck. They were soon both drenched and covered in mud.

"I didn't see that coming," said Sgt. 1st Class Perry Flournoy, of Columbus, Ga. "It felt good at first. I was hot and sweaty after moving out with that ruck on. Next thing I know, we were covered in mud."

The 30-minute 'mandatory break' turned into an exercise in discipline, dedication and motivation where Soldiers had to demonstrate low- and high-crawl techniques.

"At that point we were half way through. I have never been a quitter - I wasn't going to start then," Flournoy said who was elected the event's Most Valuable Player by the cadre. "By the time the break was over, I needed a break. My eye-pro was covered in mud, which meant I was covered in mud."

After the break, contestants were released to the testing stations according to the time they came in to home station.

Wet and dripping with mud, the Crows took their score sheets and were directed from station to station by the cadre.

At each station, they dried out a little more, until they finished the challenge.

"I knew this team had what it takes to win," said Zadzura, whose team, Wolfpack finished in 1st place. "We pushed each other hard ... We won together."

The day capped off with a banquet to award the Soldiers their belt buckles and recognize the winners with Army Achievement Medals.

The event started with 48 Crows and finished with 48 Eagles earning their right of passage - an Eagle Challenge belt buckle.

The day was best described by Capt. Emanuel Velez, from Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, and the commander of Company A.

"For a few moments today; I forgot I was in Iraq, he said.

The 203rd BSB is assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sons of Iraq Lead Coalition Forces to Weapons Cache

Soldiers assigned to Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, remove part of a large cache in Tameem, Iraq, April 14. The Sons of Iraq led Troop C to the buried cache, which included hundreds of mortar rounds.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Sons of Iraq led Soldiers from Troop C, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, and policemen with 3rd Brigade, 1st National Police Division to a large weapons cache in Tameem, a town east of Baghdad, April 14.

The cache was buried approximately 500 meters from the NP headquarters in Tameem.

“The cache had been in the ground a long time,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Ellison, from Coleman, Ala., a squad leader in Troop C. “EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) Soldiers estimated that the munitions had been buried for over a year based on their condition.”

The cache contained 389 82 mm mortar rounds, 96 125 mm tank rounds, 172 57 mm anti-aircraft rounds, 38 60 mm mortar rounds, 30 130 mm artillery rounds, 17 122 mm mortar rounds, 15 100 mm rockets, seven 155 artillery rounds, five 100 kg aircraft bombs and four 120 mm mortar rounds.

“When we first found it, we weren’t expecting it to be that large,” Ellison said. “We started digging and we started finding mortars at three feet deep. We actually hit the water table before we found the bottom of the cache. When we finished digging we had a hole about seven feet deep.”
Ellison said the SoI and NP were key parts of the operation.

“The sheikh in charge of the Sons of Iraq actually brought a front-end loader to help us dig up the cache,” Ellison said. “It was a big help. Of course, if it wasn’t for his informant, we would have never known about the cache. The policemen provided security while they brought a truck so we could transport the cache back to (Combat Outpost Cashe). After we had finished transporting the cache, they stood guard over it the whole night. They were extremely helpful.”

Soldiers of Troop C, Ellison said, are happy to remove the threat of munitions to harm citizens or Coalition forces.

“Even though many of the munitions were badly degraded, they could have still been used to make IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” he said. “We are extremely happy to help interdict these accelerants here.”

The 3-1st Cav. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007. The 789th Ordnance Company is from Ft. Benning, Ga., and is currently assigned to the 3rd BCT.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Coalition Forces Respond to Extremist Attacks

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Iraqi policemen from the 3rd Battalion, 1st National Police Division and Soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, responded to an extremist attack in al-Jarra, a small town near Salman Pak, April 19.

Extremists detonated an improvised explosive device, destroying a house but injuring no one.

According to Staff Sgt. Bobby Dorsey, the non-commissioned officer in charge of Company C’s fire support element, the attack was an attempt by extremists to intimidate the local populace and NPs operating in the area.

“This attack is an attempt by extremists, who have lost the foothold they once had, to try and intimidate the national police operating here,” said Dorsey, a native of Norman Park, Ga. “I believe it shows how little they care about the people of this area and how desperate they have become.”

The 1-15th Inf. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

4/14 - 4/18 Dog Face Daily's

Friday, 18 April 2008
Soldiers distribute school supplies; Informant tip yields weapons cache; SoI lead Coalition forces to weapons cache; Town Hall opens in Jurf as Sahkr...

Thursday, 17 April 2008
203rd BSB takes on Eagle Challenge; SoI lead Coalition forces to weapons cache; Iraqi Army takes lead in Marne Piledriver...

Wednesday, 16 April 2008
Soldier re-enlists 340 feet off the ground; Rocket cache found by Coalition, Iraqi Security Forces; CF, Babil Province leadership meet with governor of Babil...

Tuesday, 15 April 2008
MND-C launches major capacity-building operation; National Police seize cache southeast of Baghdad; Hypnotist puts aviators under his spell...

Monday, 14 April 2008
Foreign-Born Troops Become U.S. Citizens; Congressmen visit Yusifiyah; Sewing Center opens, provides employment...

President Bush Announces Shorter Deployments

Just in case you haven't heard the good news...

President George W. Bush meets with Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker April 10 at the White House. Photo by Eric Draper (White House photographer)

WASHINGTON (AFPS, April 10, 2008) – President Bush today directed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to shorten deployment lengths for U.S. Soldiers in Iraq from 15 to 12 months, starting in August.

Bush said he made the decision to reduce the strain on the force and because security improvements in Iraq have allowed for the withdrawal of all five surge combat brigades by the end of July.

He also said that officials would ensure troops have at least a year at home between deployments. The change goes into affect Aug. 1 and will not affect those already deployed there.

“Our nation owes a special thanks to the Soldiers and Families who’ve supported this extended deployment. We owe a special thanks to all who served in the cause for freedom in Iraq,” Bush said.

He also directly addressed the troops, saying that the war in Iraq is not “endless,” and that as conditions there improve, more troops could return home.

“The day will come when Iraq is a capable partner of the United States. The day will come when Iraq is a stable democracy that helps fight our common enemies and promote our common interests in the Middle East,” Bush said. “And when that day arrives, you'll come home with pride in your success and the gratitude of your whole nation.”

Bush heard positive reports on conditions in Iraq from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker this week. He cited the success of the surge brigades as setting the conditions for the troop withdrawals.

Before the surge a little more than a year ago, al-Qaida was safe in bases across the country attacking coalition forces. Now, Bush said, they are on the defensive and forces are working to deliver a “crippling blow.”

“Fifteen months ago, Americans were worried about the prospect of failure in Iraq. Today, thanks to the surge, we’ve renewed and revived the prospect of success,” Bush said.

After the withdrawal of the remaining surge combat brigades this summer, Petraeus has asked for 45 days to assess conditions on the ground and reposition troops.
“I’ve told him he’ll have all the time he needs,” Bush said. But the president warned against calling it a “pause,” saying that description is misleading. “None of our operations in Iraq will be on hold,” he said.

Bush said all U.S. efforts in the country are aimed at a clear goal: a free Iraq that can protect its people, support itself economically, and take charge of its own political affairs.

During the course of transitioning the country to Iraqi control, Bush said, coalition forces will step up their offense, becoming more targeted in their operations as Iraqi security forces take over more of the general security concerns. Also, more provinces will be transferred to Iraqi control as the United States moves into an “over-watch” role.
Economically, Iraq is moving forward, Bush said. Its economy is growing, oil revenue is on the rise, and capital investment is expanding. This is changing the U.S. role, Bush said. Americans now are spending little on large-scale construction costs, and Iraqis are paying for most of the country’s army and police, he said.

Politically, the country has seen “bottom-up” progress, as provincial and tribal leaders are turning to local political structures and taking charge of their own affairs. Provincial elections are planned this year, with national elections planned for next year.
On the diplomatic front, Bush is putting a full-court press on Iraq’s neighbors to play a more supportive role in its stabilization and growth. The president has directed Crocker and Petraeus to stop in Saudi Arabia on their way back to Iraq. He also is sending senior diplomats for talks in Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Egypt.

Each country will be encouraged to reopen their embassies in Baghdad and increase their support for Iraq, Bush said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the third Expanded Neighbors Conference in Kuwait City and the second International Compact with Iraq meeting in Stockholm.

“A stable, successful, independent Iraq is in the strategic interests of Arab nations, and all who want peace in the Middle East should support a stable, democratic Iraq. And we will urge all nations to increase their support this year,” Bush said.

Bush also issued a clear warning to Iran to stop funding and training militias fighting in Iraq.

“If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq. If Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners,” Bush said.

In the 15-minute speech, Bush defended the cost of the war and called on Congress to pass an emergency funding request that will be presented to the session soon.
The president called the war “a burden worth bearing” and said that national interests require success there.

“Iraq is the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century: al-Qaida and Iran,” Bush said. “If we fail there, al-Qaida would claim a propaganda victory of colossal proportions, and they could gain safe havens in Iraq from which to attack the United States, our friends and our allies. Iran would work to fill the vacuum in Iraq, and our failure would embolden its radical leaders and fuel their ambitions to dominate the region.”

Success in Iraq deal a historic blow to the global terrorist movement and a severe setback for Iran, he said.

“It would demonstrate to a watching world that mainstream Arabs reject the ideology of al-Qaida and mainstream Shiia reject the ideology of Iran's radical regime,” Bush said. “It would give America a new partner with a growing economy. … And in all these ways, it would bring us closer to our most important goal -- making the American people safer here at home.”

Saturday, April 19, 2008

You're Welcome

For all the free people that still protest, you’re welcome,
We protect you and you are protected by the best.
Your voice is strong and loud, but who will fight for you?
No one standing in your crowd.

We are your fathers, brothers, and sons,
wearing the boots and carrying the guns.
We are the ones that leave all we own,
to make sure your future is carved in stone.

We are the ones who fight and die.
We might not be able to save the world, well at least we try.
We walked the paths to where we are at
and we want no choice other than that.

We when you rally your group to complain,
take a look in the back of your brain.
In order for that flag you love to fly,
wars must be fought and young men must die.

We came here to fight for the ones we hold dear.
If that’s not respected, we would rather stay here.
So please stop yelling and put down your signs,
and pray for those behind enemy lines.

When the conflict is over and all is well,
be thankful that we chose to go through hell.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Some Soldiers to Redeploy Next Week

Some soldiers to redeploy next week
Transportation delays behind slow return

While it was hoped that the advance party of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team would be redeploying to Fort Benning in mid-April, it now appears that the earliest the first group of soldiers will return to Lawson Army Airfield may be next week.

"There have been some delays on the transportation side," said Lt. Col. Scott Quagliata, the brigade's rear detachment commander. "We do not have a flight scheduled until the 23rd and that's actually a group from the 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, nine or 10 soldiers."

The post public affairs office said Wednesday that they are unaware of any returning flights before next week.

While some may have expected the initial group of about 380 soldiers to arrive earlier than next week, brigade commander Col. Wayne O. Grigsby Jr. had warned last month that he could not provide definite dates because "we won't know the definite timetable until 48-72 hours before we leave."

The ADVON, or advance party of representatives, from each of the brigade's six battalions, totaling almost a tenth of the unit's 3,800 troops, will arrive several weeks before the bulk of the brigade is expected to arrive.

Grigsby said that should be "during the first couple of weeks in May."

The brigade, part of the Pentagon's early 2007 "surge" into Baghdad, Iraq, was scheduled to serve a 15-month deployment, which would have meant a mid-June return.

Families back home have also been given tentative return dates. "Our Family Readiness Group is already busy preparing for the arrival of our great soldiers," Grigsby said.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Soldiers Aid Residents, Remove Weapons Cache

Soldiers from the 789th Ordnance Company (EOD), from Fort Benning, Ga., currently attached to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, prepare a cache for detonation at a remote location near Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq, April 10.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – The Sons of Iraq in Nine Nissan, a village east of Baghdad, led Soldiers in Battery A, 1st Battalion, 10th Field Artillery, to a weapons cache buried at a remote location near FOB Hammer on April 10.

The cache was destroyed by Soldiers from the 789th Ordnance Company (EOD), from Fort Benning, Ga., currently attached to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, at the site.

The cache contained 18 rockets, 14 mortars, 10 105-mm shells, 10 103-mm shells and two tank rounds.

The SoI in Sabbah Nissan have found and led the 3rd BCT to multiple caches since their group formed two months ago.

Earlier that day, Soldiers from Battery A and local Iraqi leaders conducted a humanitarian mission to deliver food, medicine, water and supplies to the people of Najidat, southeast of Baghdad.

Leaders of the Nine Nissan council had requested aid for the small village at their regular meeting earlier in the week.

The 1-10 FA is assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.